Yes, Shopping can be an Addiction

Yes, Shopping can be an Addiction

“This just called my name.”

“I can’t walk/drive past that store without buying something.”

“If one is good, five are better.”

Seemingly innocent comments, but they might reveal something a little bit deeper depending on the person.

We see bumper stickers with words such as, “The person with the most toys wins!”, making light of the shopping habit, but there are people who feel a constant urge to purchase. It may be one category of stuff, but it could be lots of different items.

So quickly and without thinking, answer each of these questions:

  • Do you use shopping as a quick fix for the blues?
  • Do you spend more than you can afford?
  • Are some of your purchases unused or hidden?
  • Do you feel guilty or ashamed about this behavior?
  • Would your life be richer if you were shopping less?

These questions were shared at the beginning of a class I took on Compulsive Buying taught by April Lane Benson, Ph.D. of Stopping Overshopping, LLC. Benson dispelled some myths by stating that men and women are involved in compulsive buying at similar rates. The reason why many people attribute overshopping to women is because women are more likely to seek help for the issue.

What are some of the reasons that people have such a strong urge to buy? The article Help for shopaholics: New test determines who’s at risk for compulsive buying reports that research shows that “materialism, reduced self-esteem, depression, anxiety, and stress can all be linked to obsessive buying. The same studies illustrated that overshoppers associated positive feelings with making purchases. At the same time, compulsive buyers experienced negative consequences such as increased family tensions and more credit cards at their limits.

So you or someone you know is a shopaholic, what now?

If you are the obsessive shopper, these are some tactics based on suggestions from Benson:

  1. Ask these questions before every purchase:
    1. What am I doing here?
    2. How do I feel?
    3. How will I use this?
    4. What if I wait?
    5. How will I pay for this?
    6. Where will I put it?
  2. Identify a “shopping support buddy”. This friend could serve as a “sounding board” prior to making purchases. This person might also shop with you to help you stick to your list.
  3. Set real boundaries such as:
    1. Limit the number of stores you enter or amount of time you’re allowed to shop.
    2. Have someone set up the “parental controls” on your television(s) so you can’t access the shopping channels. If someone else set it up, it is harder to override.
    3. Create parameters around the ability to access your favorite shopping websites. K9 Protection is one software you can use.
    4. Discontinue all product catalogs.
  4. “Shop” for experiences and ideas rather than physical stuff. Pinterest is a great way to keep track of ideas.

If someone you know is a compulsive buyer, here are some reminders from Benson:

  • Remember that you can’t force change on someone.
  • If your friend gets defensive or reacts strongly to something you say, it’s time to back off. For additional communication tips, see the free Fact Sheet Tips for Communicating with the Chronically Disorganized from the ICD.
  • Recognize that overshopping is a multi-faceted challenge and the treatment may require collaboration between experts in the fields of organizing, therapy and other related disciplines.

These are high-level suggestions for a complex issue. If you or someone you know is a compulsive buyer, please see Benson’s website for additional ideas and resources.

Just to be clear, this article is about compulsive shoppers and not necessarily people with hoarding behaviors. While there is overlap between these two challenges, there are differences as well. If you want more information on hoarding behaviors, or if you want to help someone with hoarding behaviors, please use those links to download our free resource sheets on these topics.